In the short fiction story "The Lottery", author Shirley Jackson has a 3rd person point of view narrator who tells the story of a town event that is on the verge of happening. This "lottery" does not have a pleasant prize, however, the story is being told as if this lottery event is normal. Is there a word to describe the narrators tone of describing the day of the lottery and the event it self?

  • 1
    That is called dramatic irony.
    – Robusto
    Feb 17, 2015 at 20:21
  • 1
    I tend to think that while, in a meta-context it might be called dramatic irony, the narrator, who knows nothing of the reader's scope or mind-set, is just reporting "matter-of-factly"
    – Jim
    Feb 17, 2015 at 21:52
  • I think it's called fiction. Feb 18, 2015 at 15:17

3 Answers 3


It's called dramatic irony. From the Wikipedia entry for irony:

Dramatic irony . . . [produces] dramatic conflict in what one character relies or appears to rely upon, the contrary of which is known by observers (especially the audience; sometimes to other characters within the drama) to be true.

In this case, the observer (the reader) knows that the lottery is bizarre even though it is accepted as normal by the people in the story.

  • I disagree. Under this assertion, Is there any work of fiction that is not an example of "dramatic irony"? Feb 19, 2015 at 14:44
  • Well, Jim, yes there is. The difference is in degree, and the disparity between what the characters know and what the reader (viewer) knows has to be profound. You certainly don't get that from mass-market fiction. But you get it from, say, The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, and other works, but not necessarily from Moby-Dick or Oliver Twist.
    – Robusto
    Feb 19, 2015 at 14:51

The situation is describable by a few terms.

  • contradiction
  • paradox
  • anomaly
  • enigma

I would choose enigma. I think most people would choose enigma to describe the situation.

To emphasize the unpleasantness of the enigma

  • horrendous/horrid/unpleasant/cruel enigma

For example,

  • Poverty is a cruel enigma of human existence. It does not matter how diligent or intelligent you are. It is a lottery that befalls on a chosen group of people, in order to allow the contrasts of diversity to oil the machinery of society.

e•nig•ma (əˈnɪg mə)

n., pl. -mas, -ma•ta (-mə tə)
  1. a puzzling or inexplicable occurrence or situation.
  2. a person of puzzling or contradictory character.
  3. a saying, picture, etc., containing a hidden meaning; riddle.

[1530–40; < Latin aenigma < Greek aínigma < ainik- (s. of ainíssesthai to speak in riddles, derivative of aînos fable)]

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.


It also could be viewed as understatement. By its nature, understatement is ironic.

In telling a tale of horror as if it is quotidian, Ms. Jackson is being a bit disingenuous.

  • Or is it her telling it so a vital part of what makes it horror? Feb 18, 2015 at 9:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.